Two directors with stellar track records recently came out with highly anticipated films, both of which have garnered generally favorable reviews: David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Alexander Payne’s The Descendants (which made my year-end top-ten list). Fincher and Payne are two of the finest American filmmakers of their generation, but only Payne can say he’s never made a bad movie.
Payne is still batting 1.000. Payne is perfect, like the 1972 Miami Dolphins — do you think he gets together with other undefeated directors and clinks champagne glasses when a promising new filmmaker releases his or her first weak movie?
Sorry, David, you’ve got an impressive record, but you did make both Alien3 and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
Payne has directed five full-length features: the underappreciated Citizen Ruth, Election, About Schmidt, Sideways and now The Descendants. About Schmidt has its issues, but I’d certainly still classify it as a “good” film, meaning Payne is five for five.
Who can join Payne in the undefeated club? Who else has released at least three films and has yet to screw one up or make a bad choice? (This is basically a version of the bestest pub game ever, but for directors.)
The rules: we’re not dealing with documentarians, because that’s a whole different ball of wax. And if I haven’t seen a movie it can’t count (sorry, Kelly Reichardt).
Filmography to Date: Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill Vol. I, Kill Bill Vol. II, Death Proof (from Grindhouse), Inglourious Basterds (7 for 7). QT just keeps rolling right along, with more staying power than anyone gave him credit for when he burst onto the scene.
Future Outlook: Tarantino’s next film is Django Unchained, about a former slave on a quest for revenge. Unfortunately, Jamie Foxx is prominently involved. But there’s still little change this won’t be awesome.
Filmography to Date: Following, Memento, Insomnia, Batman Begins, The Prestige, The Dark Knight, Inception (7 for 7). Following just barely squeaks in under the wire, avoiding excluding Nolan on his cheaply made debut.
Future Outlook: The Dark Knight Rises, of course, which has high potential for disaster. But Nolan’s probably earned a bit of trust by now.
Filmography to Date: Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited, Fantastic Mr. Fox (6 for 6). While Anderson hasn’t been able to match the quality of the Rushmore/Tenenbaums duo, he has yet to truly falter.
Future Outlook: Moonrise Kingdom, currently in post-production and due in 2012, has a cast that includes Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel and Tilda Swinton. I don’t need to know anything else about it. It’s going to be good.
Paul Thomas Anderson
Filmography to Date: Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love (5 for 5). Anderson hasn’t even come close to a misstep yet. He may be the finest director working today.
Future Outlook: The Master, due in 2012, is already garnering hype as Anderson’s thinly veiled Scientology project, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, and Amy Adams. It’s obviously impossible to know, but it’s hard to imagine this being anything short of great. Unless John Travolta finds and burns all the footage before it can be released.
Filmography to Date: Thank You for Smoking, Juno, Up in the Air, Young Adult (4 for 4). Wow, I did not see this coming. Reitman sticks out a bit on this list because he hasn’t made a legitimately great film yet. But: no bad ones, either, so he’s in.
Future Outlook: His next project is Labor Day, a “coming-of-age drama” starring Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet. Doesn’t sound promising, but Winslet’s involvement bodes well.
Filmography to Date: Metropolitan, Barcelona, The Last Days of Disco (3 for 3, with extra credit for the Homicide episode “The Heart of Saturday Night”). Like Wes Anderson, Stillman hasn’t exactly shown a lot of range, but his thing is his thing. And he’s great at it.
Future Outlook: After a 13-year absence, Damsels in Distress debuted at this year’s Toronto Film Festival. Early reviews are positive, and indicate the film, set on a college campus, is a slight departure for Stillman.
Umm…where the non-white-men at? DON’T BLAME ME, I JUST INVENTED THIS GAME AND MADE UP ALL THE RULES. I didn’t invent our patriarchal, racist society.